August 23, 2022

The National Park Foundation: This Land Carries All of Our Stories

National Philanthropic Trust’s donors recommend thousands of grants every year. This new series, Grants In Action highlights the breadth of causes and organizations NPT’s donors are supporting with grant recommendations from their donor-advised fund accounts.

Author Kathryn Kochanowicz, Content Specialist

Is the United States a place or an idea? Stories are as important to Americans’ identity as the landscapes and natural environment, and the National Park Foundation is committed to telling those stories across the nation’s hundreds of national park sites.

As the official, Congressionally-chartered nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, NPF supports America’s national parks, monuments and historical sites by providing additional funding not only for the regular attention and maintenance these places deserve, but also for initiatives and partnerships that improve visitor experience, support a more diverse National Park Service workforce and contribute to the parks’ climate resiliency. Last year, the organization provided the parks and partners with more than $89 million in program grants and support.

“Our mission is to provide support to make our national parks—which are already amazingly wonderful places—even better,” says Will Shafroth, the organization’s President and CEO.

“What that means is that we help preserve and protect the parks. There are a lot of threats coming at them from climate change, overcrowding—a variety of environmental factors that degrade the quality of these parks, so we try to do what we can to protect the land and the wildlife. We also try to improve the visitor experience for recreation while telling the stories of these important, protected places.”

These are places that we all own an equal share of. They can serve as important common ground, not only as a place for healing, but also for coming together to recognize that we share more than we were divided by in this country.

When someone mentions America’s national parks, the stunning beauty of a place like Yosemite or Yellowstone may come to mind, but the National Park Service also cares for hundreds historic sites like battlefields, homes and memorials, and other natural sites like preserves, rivers and recreation areas, to name a few.

NPF believes that telling the stories connected to all these places is a vital part of the parks’ purpose.

“These are places that we all own an equal share of,” says Shafroth, who previously served in the Department of the Interior and in other executive roles within environmental conservation. “They can serve as important common ground, not only as a place for healing, but also for coming together to recognize that we share more than we were divided by in this country.”

Including new and underrepresented perspectives is important for NPF when funding new projects.

“We know that we need to do a better job of telling all the stories in this country,” Shafroth says. “When you look at the park sites, you should ask yourself, ‘Is this about a white man, or a woman of color?’ for example. In that case, the numbers are stacked against women of color, so we know we need to be more equitable in terms of making sure that these stories are about everyone—we want to be doing all that we can to share more stories.”

The Native Conservation Corps, a park service corps working in places like the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona and Olympic National Park in Washington, is an example of how NPF’s support allows the Park Service to weave together every aspect of their shared mission; to tell the complete stories of these parks, to preserve the land and to engage visitors and youth.

“The youths and their tribes were present there for tens of thousands of years, so to bring young people from various tribes into the area where they can ask and answer questions like— ‘What were the practices of the tribes that lived on these lands and stewarded these lands for years? What was their relationship to wildlife like here?’—it’s really a triple win. You’re not just getting the good work on the ground, you’re not just inspiring a generation to love the parks, you’re also making an important historical connection for those young tribal youth,” Shafroth says.

Although the Park Service is funded by Congress, grantmaking support from donors is a crucial component of its work. “It’s the essential ingredient,” says Shafroth. “Flat government funding definitely leaves a gap.”

Grants, like those coming from donor-advised funds (DAFs) give NPF the opportunity to invest in important new programming and partnerships. Since the beginning of their 2019 fiscal year, NPF has received nearly $20 million in grant funding from DAFs and has seen significant increases in DAF grantmaking at the major grant level.

Grantmaking makes an impact not just in donors’ closest national park, but across the whole country.

“There’s something powerful about that,” says Shafroth. “Because it’s not just one project in one place for one year, but a long-term opportunity to impact the country and a movement in a broader sense.”

About the Author

Kathryn Lena Kochanowicz is a Content Specialist at National Philanthropic Trust. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2019 with a degree in English Literature & Creative Writing, and currently resides in Hatboro, PA.